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New TMCx program launches, C-level execs named at Houston startups, and more innovation news

The new programming geared at idea-stage startups has officially commenced at TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMCx

There's been a lot of recent Houston innovation news, and you might have missed something. Keep up to date with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston in this innovation news roundup.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details andsubscribe to our daily newsletterthat sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

TMCalpha premieres 

Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has long counseled budding medical entrepreneurs in various capacities through its TMC Innovation Institute, but wanted to introduce programming specifically for early-stage companies. That's how TMC alpha was born and announced at the most recent TMCx Demo Day.

The program officially launched on July 18 and will host meetups on the third Thursday of every month.

"Over the past five years, TMC Innovation has blossomed into a global proving ground for healthcare startup companies from across the world, and we could not be more pleased with the myriad ways in which the ecosystem here has expanded in nature," says TMC Innovation Director Tom Luby in a release. "That being said, we realized that TMC Innovation needed to do more for the local innovation community and offer ample resources to support homegrown talent from within the confines of the largest medical city in the world. With TMC alpha, the hope is to connect anyone with a fledgling healthcare idea to the TMC Innovation network and create a two-way channel of meaningful dialogue."

Innowatts scores extra funding and names new C-level exec

Photo via innowatts.com

Houston-based AI-enabled analytics company, Innowatts, is growing in more ways than one. The company, which is fresh off an over $18.2 million Series B fundraise, added move funds and a new C-level executive.

Veronorte, a South American venture capital firm backed by one of the largest utilities in Colombia, became an additional investor in the company with an undisclosed contribution. Meanwhile, Eric Danziger joined the company as its new chief revenue officer. He will be tasked with the growth and sales of Innowatts' eUtility™ product.

"As the utility grid becomes more complex with the proliferation of electric vehicles and distributed generation," says Danziger in a release, "utility companies have to adapt to the data generated and needs of their consumers to manage these complex requirements."

Startup snags free office space prize

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Shoot, a digital marketplace that simplifies the photographer and videographer booking process, has scored free office space in the newly opened Cannon building after receiving the second annual Insperity Innovation Scholarship.

The company was co-founded by Simbai Mutandiro and Alina Merida and has already launched its beta platform. The company will release its next version of the platform soon.

"Our relationship with The Cannon and the Insperity Innovation Scholarship are part of our initiative to help startups become successful more quickly by connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals," says Larry Shaffer, Insperity senior vice president of marketing and business development, in a release. "We congratulate Shoot on receiving this scholarship and wish the co- founders continued success in furthering their entrepreneurial dream."

The other three finalists in the contest — Delfin, Social Chains, and SOTAOG — will receive open desk memberships at The Cannon for six months.

Houston falls low on the list of cities booming with growing private companies

Texas Money

Getty Images

When it comes to the major metros with the biggest jump in private businesses with over $1 million in revenue, Houston is the last on the list for Texas cities. LendingTree looked at the data, and, between 2014 and 2016, Houston only saw an increase of 4.9 percent in million-dollar business growth. This earned the Bayou City a No. 32 ranking across the country.

Dallas was slightly ahead of Houston with 5.2 percent growth and a No. 29 rank. Meanwhile, Austin earned the top spot with 15.1 percent growth. San Antonio, the only other Texas metro in the study, ranked No. 12 with 9 percent growth.

Nesh forms partnership

Oil rig

Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

The Woodlands-based WellDatabase has announced a partnership with Nesh, an AI-optimized tool that's like the Siri or Alexa of oil and gas.

"The technology is amazing and we are thrilled to work with the Nesh team," writes John Ferrell, CEO of WellDatabase, in a blog post. "The integration allows Nesh to run real-time queries against WellDatabase. Users can ask a multitude of questions and get instant answers. They can also work with the Nesh team directly to train and build new questions and workflows."

Rice University and Cognite join forces

Courtesy of Cognite

When Oslo, Norway-based Cognite announced its dual U.S. headquarters in Houston and Austin, it had plans to engage universities from the get go. Now, the company, which specializes in data software with industrial applications, has officially created a partnership and internship program with Rice University.

"This partnership illustrates Cognite's commitment to attracting top people to build the most talented software engineering team in the world," says John Markus Lervik, Cognite co-founder and CEO, in a release. "Cognite solves some of the most complex problems related to industrial digitalization. To do that, we need the best minds, so partnering with Rice University was a natural choice."

Rice students are currently in Norway this summer working for Cognite as a part as the inaugural program.

The Cannon teams up with Thompson & Knight

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based law firm Thompson & Knight has officially signed on to provide resources for The Cannon startups in a strategic partnership between the two companies.

"Thompson & Knight is pleased to partner with Houston-based entrepreneurs who are building the innovation, services, and technological platforms of the very near future," says Mark M. Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight, in a news release. "We will offer our experience in the issues common to startup businesses, including intellectual property, technology, corporate, labor, and other areas of counsel that will help further the goals of these pioneering companies."

The law firm will have an office in The Cannon's recently opened building in West Houston.

Solugen names president

Getty Images


In May, Houston-based chemicals company, Solugen Inc., closed a $32 million round. Now, the company has put a portion of that money to work to hired the newest executive on the team. Jason Roberts, who has a decade of chemicals and oil and gas experience, has joined Solugen as president.

"What I found most compelling about Solugen was the company's quick successes and their overarching goal of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says Roberts in a release. "The company's fundamental chemistry and technologies have created products that no one in the industry currently has. I am excited to join this young company's fast moving team at such a significant time in its history and look forward to helping scale their innovative products and services."

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Building Houston

 
 

A Rice research team is tapping into materials science to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, a UH professor is developing a treatment for hereditary vision loss, and a BCM researcher is looking at stress and brain cancer. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on life-saving health care research thanks to new technologies.

Rice University scientists' groundbreaking alzheimer's study

Angel Martí (right) and his co-authors (from left) Utana Umezaki and Zhi Mei Sonia He have published their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease will affect nearly 14 million people in the U.S. by 2060. A group of scientists from Rice University are looking into a peptide associated with the disease, and their study was published in Chemical Science.

Angel Martí — a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program — and his team have developed a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, according to a news release from Rice. The scientists "found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates, opening the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits."

Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer’s, per Rice.

“Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils” says Martí in the release. “Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.

“Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity,” he adds.

The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research, which is explained more thoroughly on Rice's website.

University of Houston professor granted $1.6M for gene therapy treatment for rare eye disease

Muna Naash, a professor at UH, is hoping her research can result in treatment for a rare genetic disease that causes vision loss. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher is working on a way to restore sight to those suffering from a rare genetic eye disease.

Muna Naash, the John S. Dunn Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering at UH, is expanding a method of gene therapy to potentially treat vision loss in patients with Usher Syndrome Type 2A, or USH2A, a rare genetic disease.

Naash has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support her work. Mutations of the USH2A gene can include hearing loss from birth and progressive loss of vision, according to a news release from UH. Naash's work is looking at applying gene therapy — the introduction of a normal gene into cells to correct genetic disorders — to treat this genetic disease. There is not currently another treatment for USH2A.

“Our goal is to advance our current intravitreal gene therapy platform consisting of DNA nanoparticles/hyaluronic acid nanospheres to deliver large genes in order to develop safe and effective therapies for visual loss in Usher Syndrome Type 2A,” says Naash. “Developing an effective treatment for USH2A has been challenging due to its large coding sequence (15.8 kb) that has precluded its delivery using standard approaches and the presence of multiple isoforms with functions that are not fully understood."

BCM researcher on the impact of stress

This Baylor researcher is looking at the relationship between stress and brain cancer thanks to a new grant. Photo via Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Stress can impact the human body in a number of ways — from high blood pressure to hair loss — but one Houston scientist is looking into what happens to bodies in the long term, from age-related neurodegeneration to cancer.

Dr. Steven Boeynaems is assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. His lab is located at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also is a part of the Therapeutic Innovation Center, the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

Recently, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, awarded Boeynaems a grant to continue his work studying how cells and organisms respond to stress.

“Any cell, in nature or in our bodies, during its existence, will have to deal with some conditions that deviate from its ideal environment,” Boeynaems says in a BCM press release. “The key issue that all cells face in such conditions is that they can no longer properly fold their proteins, and that leads to the abnormal clumping of proteins into aggregates. We have seen such aggregates occur in many species and under a variety of stress-related conditions, whether it is in a plant dealing with drought or in a human patient with aging-related Alzheimer’s disease."

Now, thanks to the CPRIT funding, he says his lab will now also venture into studying the role of cellular stress in brain cancer.

“A tumor is a very stressful environment for cells, and cancer cells need to continuously adapt to this stress to survive and/or metastasize,” he says in the release.

“Moreover, the same principles of toxic protein aggregation and protection through protein droplets seem to be at play here as well,” he continues. “We have studied protein droplets not only in humans but also in stress-tolerant organisms such as plants and bacteria for years now. We propose to build and leverage on that knowledge to come up with innovative new treatments for cancer patients.”

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